Actor & comedian Tom Arnold

The actor and comedian discusses his upcoming comedy tour as well as his work with the Brady gun control campaign.

As a writer, producer, and actor, Tom Arnold has established himself to both television and film audiences worldwide, having won such awards as the Peabody Award and a Golden Globe Award. Arnold hosted CMT’s My Big Redneck Wedding and My Big Redneck Vacation which premiered at the highest ratings in CMT history. Additionally, he helped put Fox Sports Network on the map with his hosting duties on The Best Damn Sports Show Period. Arnold is most known for film roles in films such as Nine Months, True Lies, Hero and Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery. Arnold has successfully broken out of the comedic stereotype and is becoming a fixture at film festivals by landing more mature and dramatic roles. After the untimely death of his nephew, Tom Arnold began work as an activist supporting the Brady campaign's initiatives for better gun control laws.

TRANSCRIPT

Tavis: Tom Arnold’s name has been synonymous with comedy in this business for almost 30 years now and he’s still at it with new standup dates this fall. He joins us now to talk comedy, politics and, on a more serious note, his work with the Brady campaign. Tom Arnold, good to have you back on this program.

Tom Arnold: Good to be back.

Tavis: Let me start with that and we’ll work our way up to the funny stuff.

Arnold: Absolutely.

Tavis: Because there’s nothing funny about this.

Arnold: Right.

Tavis: Tell me about your nephew. I’ve read this story and I was shaken by it.

Arnold: Well, you know, first of all, it’s funny when you are working on something that is common sense and people call it activism and it’s just common sense. The Brady campaign, we are basically trying to pass some common sense legislation to add to the original Brady bill which was started by Ronald Reagan.

My nephew committed suicide. My nephew was a person that suffered from depression and other things. He was asked to leave the Army early because of those issues, previous suicide attempts. And yet the day he left, he was able to get a concealed weapons permit legally and buy five guns.

We would like to change that. Every day, 22 members of the military commit suicide. Every year, a million people attempt suicide in our country. 22,000 succeed. Now that means there’s a lot of people that get a second chance at life and I personally know a lot of people who turn their lives around.

But guns, you try to commit suicide with a gun, you got over a 90% chance of succeeding. And those that live after shooting themselves in the head, their life is completely different. So it’s a big issue.

We’d like to have some legislation that, if you are suffering from a mental illness, that you’re not allowed to buy a new gun, that you are a domestic abuser, you’re not allowed to go right from jail to the gun store, back to your house and murder your family. You know, common sense background checks for all. 93% of gun stores in America have never sold a crime gun.

You know, it’s a specific group that’s doing it. You see the crime in Chicago, we know the Justice Department is working with us. We know the dealers that are selling those guns. They’re selling 50 guns to one person and then they go to the parking lot and distribute them to their “cousins”. They aren’t even in the state of Illinois. We’re doing our best to, you know, use common sense to change these things.

The problem is with this country, it’s so divided now that the second we talk about that–I believe in the Second Amendment. I own guns. I’m a hunter my whole life. I’m from Iowa. You know, I’m not trying to take anybody’s guns away from them. But if they’re mentally ill, I’m just trying to protect them and their families until they get better.

Tavis: You use the word common sense two or three times, and I’m glad you did because it is common sense. My grandmother put it this way. It’s just too much like right. They won’t do it even though it’s just too much like right.

What do you think informs a decision by the gun lobby, by the gun industry, to fight common sense change in the law like not being able to get a concealed weapon if you have a mental illness? I mean, if the Army could figure that out and ask you to leave, how do gun sellers get away with that and why does the gun lobby fight against that?

Arnold: Well, a lot of gun sellers–the biggest gun dealer in all of Arizona has come to me and said, “Help me. I have to be a social worker too? Help me. Five times a day, I have to say no to people because I can tell.

My buddy, Mike Spoor, owns a gun store outside of Des Moines and a guy comes in and says I want your cheapest shotgun and one shell. What is he gonna do? Right? Come on!” [laugh] We need to help these guys.

The other thing you have to remember is when I was a kid and went to Y camp, they taught the safety course, gun safety. But they’re a lobby group. I can’t even blame–their job is to lie to the American public, which they absolutely lie. They have convinced 68% of America that having a gun in your house makes it safer.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t have a gun in your house. I’m just saying that it makes it eight times more likely that that gun will shoot you or a member of your family than a bad guy. Just know that going in. That’s a fact. They’ve lied to us. Their job is to sell guns. It’s not to protect you.

It’s people like Chuck Grassley from my state of Iowa who used to be a great senator who is bought and paid for by the NRA, who knows that 90% of America agrees with me. You know, we want to protect people. We certainly want to protect our men and women of the military and not create any more Gold Star families after these guys come home.

You know, they come home, we say they’re heroes, but inside they don’t feel like heroes. They end up in the basement, you know, with their guns and their drugs. We just want to be able to protect them from hurting themselves.

Tavis: What has to happen, you think–I’ve asked this question of others and I want to ask it of you. What do you think, Tom Arnold, has to happen for us to get traction on this?

Because, to my mind, if cops are being killed by guns, if kids are being killed in schools and classrooms by gunsI mean, my point is if you’re not going to protect the babies and you’re not going to protect the cops, then disabuse me of this notion that we’re ever going to get traction on this issue.

Arnold: Right. Well, I feel like we’re getting a little bit of traction because I feel like the NRA is a bit of a paper tiger. I feel like there’s about 2,000 hardcore members of the NRA. I feel like the rest of the people joined that organization for the 20% discount they get at a sporting goods.

I feel that, once we educate them on what they’re really doing, the lie they’re really telling, every four years they tell the same lie. Obama’s gonna take away your guns. They did it again in 2008 and 2012, and now Hillary’s gonna take away your guns.

It’s a lie. Eventually, they’re gonna catch on and they’re gonna catch onto these congressmen and senators that are bought and paid for, and that’s what it’s gonna take.

You know, they want you to be in fear and the fear is, you know, we got to be in fear of the fact that we have to take better care of our–because they don’t care about you. The NRA does not care about you. They care about selling guns and they’re doing a great job.

We have 360 million guns. We are never going to take away peoples’ guns in America. I don’t want to take away legal guns from anybody, but they convince people that that’s what we’re trying to do. So they put down these common sense legislations, but I think we’re making a little bit of progress. Again, you got to remember, it started because of Ronald Reagan, their hero.

Ronald Reagan, when he got shot with James Brady, his press secretary, that’s why this whole thing started. We’re just trying to update it because of the internet and the changes that have happened. But I think we’ll get there. It doesn’t make any sense after Sandy Hook. It doesn’t make any sense, but I think we’ll get there.

Tavis: You mentioned Hillary. Let’s go to Donald Trump. You recall some months ago, Trump at one point–to his credit and I don’t give Trump credit for much.

But to his credit, he did try on that background check to try to have a reasonable conversation with the NRA and the gun lobby, and they slapped him around and then he ended up doing a 180 on it. But what do you make of the fact that even he got slapped around when he just tried to have a conversation with them about background checks?

Arnold: Well, what he’s saying right now is, well, after I’m elected, I’m going to be reasonable. Because Donald Trump was never a Republican conservative. Donald Trump…

Tavis: Not in New York City [laugh].

Arnold: He’s even quoted in saying, “If I ran for president, I’d run as a Republican because they’re so stupid, they’ll believe anything they see on Fox News.”

Tavis: [Laugh] He said that, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Arnold: So he’s listened to rightwing radio and said, “I’m gonna say these certain buttons. I’m gonna play into this and then we’re gonna be reasonable with them.” Here’s the thing. How about fairness, background checks?

My buddy that owns a gun store, he has to pay 8% sales tax. You land in Arizona right now, there’s billboards everywhere. “Go to the gun show.” There’s no background checks for part of that and no sales tax.

How about it being fair commerce for everybody in America? Real gun store owners, it should be fair to them too. So they’re selling guns. They don’t know who to, to terrorists, people on the terror watch list. That’s fine with them. It’s fine with the NRA, you know. Mentally ill, we’re losing servicemen and women.

You’d think that this will catch up, but we’re not gonna quit talking about it. We’re gonna keep talking about it and, hopefully, these congressmen and women, we’re gonna see what they’re made of and get rid of them.

Tavis: Yeah. And in the midst of all this, you still find stuff that’s funny [laugh]?

Arnold: I do, I do.

Tavis: All of this, and you’re still doing standup?

Arnold: I do. Absolutely, there’s a lot to be funny. Well, you know, I’ll tell you what’s funny. You know, I have these things. I get on Twitter and then people start attacking, you know, the all right. You know, I’m Jewish, so I get the Neo-Nazis attacking me, but I feel like if you’re gonna engage with people that say nice stuff about you, you also got to engage with the other people.

My brother, we track down these people and it’s not organized like an army of Neo-Nazis. It’s a guy that lives in his mom’s basement. It’s sad.

So they always say, “Hey, when the race war starts, you’re a Jew. You’re gonna be on the side with the Black guys against us white guys. Remember, us white guys created the Winchester rifle.” I said, “Well, us Jews created the atomic bomb.” [laugh] So I’ll engage with that.

It’s a sad thing and, you know, I don’t take anything too personally, especially on the internet. It’s ridiculous, but hopefully, we’ll come–they’re scared. People are scared for some reason.

Tavis: Do you still find joy in doing this standup after all these years?

Arnold: I find more joy in doing standup than anything because you have to realize, no matter what’s going on in my life, I can have an argument with my wife, I didn’t get this pilot or that pilot, I all of a sudden realized, oh, there’s 400 or 500 people sitting out there right now that paid to come and see me, that got babysitters. I know what that’s like now [laugh]. Childcare drove.

I’m here to entertain them for 75 minutes and I better forget about myself and my crazy head. All that matters is that they get a great show. So it’s awesome because I can’t think about myself and I can’t think, well, it’s in my crazy head.

I can’t worry about 20 years in the future and how a 57-year-old man with a three-year-old son and a nine-month-old daughter, how old am I gonna be when they go to college? Oh, my God! [laugh] No, no, I got to entertain those people right now and they deserve it, so I love it.

Tavis: So the answer is, if you want to forget your problems, become a standup comedian [laugh].

Arnold: Absolutely! I challenge anybody to do it.

Tavis: But you know what? I did that one time. First of all, I love comedians. That’s why you’re here. I love comedians.

Arnold: I love comedians too.

Tavis: I love standup. I love comedians. And one time on a bet, I did five minutes onstage. It is the scariest thing I have ever done in my life.

Arnold: When I started, I was so crazy at the University of Iowa. I worked three years in a meatpacking plant to save enough money to go to Iowa and I was so crazy and I drank all the time. My friends were so drunk. They came to the show. They thought I was funny. I thought I was funny. I was terrible [laugh].

But a guy said–you know, my friends, they’d be drunk and they’d watch me and laugh and then they’d all leave, and then the real comedian from Minneapolis would have no audience. He said, “Hey, I’ll tell you what. If you get your drunken friends to stay for the real show, I’ll give you a job in Minneapolis as a comic”, and I quit college.

I worked for three years for college. I quit immediately and moved to Minneapolis with $100 for a job. I went to the Comedy Club and I said, “I don’t have a driver’s license”–’cause I’d been arrested too many times–“so I need to live close to here.” He goes, “No, you don’t need to live close to here. I gave you a job. It’s one weekend for $15.”

So I gave up everything for one weekend. I didn’t know it. So I went to the nearest bar, got a job as a bouncer, stayed. You eventually learn how to do it, eventually quit drinking too. And it is scary, but it’s a pretty wonderful thing.

Tavis: And the rest, as they say, is history. He comes to Hollywood, becomes a star, doing TV and film and standup…

Arnold: Done way too many films. I’ve done 130, but as my wife always says, “Only four of them are good.” She keeps me humble [laugh].

Tavis: Tom Arnold, thankfully, has gotten better at that standup thing and he’s crisscrossing the country right now, so check him out if you can. You can get all the information online, but go see Tom if you want a good laugh and forget about your problems. Tom, thank you. It’s good to have you here, man.

Arnold: Thank you, man.

Tavis: That’s our show for tonight. Goodnight from L.A. Thanks for watching and, as always, keep the faith.

Announcer: For more information on today’s show, visit Tavis Smiley at pbs.org.

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Last modified: September 23, 2016 at 2:10 pm